Hey, how 'bout that government shutdown?
If there's one good thing to emerge from our current political mess, it's this: In times of crisis, we see people for who they really are.
People like Cristen Smith and Todd Johnsen.
Smith is the so-called "Pear Lady," a 21-year-old single mother who made headlines last week. When she heard that some women and children might not be able to access their WIC government assistance, Smith made a simple offering of fresh pears from a tree in her yard. From that small gesture, others stepped forward. And suddenly, like the parable of the fishes and loaves, a relatively small donation was feeding the multitudes.
Johnsen, by contrast, is ... well ... certainly no Cristen Smith. He's the guy who, in the online comment section of the story I wrote about the Pear Lady, recently took the opportunity to berate Smith for her life decisions, calling her "a single mother who was too ignorant or stupid to use birth control while she participated in sexual activity and then farted out an illegitimate child for responsible citizens to support ... ."
Johnsen's twisted argument, near as I can tell, comes from this line in a post: "People make poor choices and end up in situations where they can't feed their kids. Society rewards them for their poor decisions with assistance."
Two diametrically opposed approaches to the idea of helping others. Smith doesn't care who you are or what you've done. She may not have much, but if you need it, she'll share. Johnsen, on the other hand, seems to think that assistance should be based on whether or not you're a responsible citizen who deserves help.
Yesterday, my wise-beyond-her-years 23-year-old daughter posted an interesting YouTube link on Facebook. It's a video created by the Cleveland Clinic, considered one of the top hospitals in the country.
The video begins with the Henry David Thoreau quote "Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?" It then spends the next four minutes quietly panning around a hospital, showing images of various hospital patrons and workers, with simple labels that appear on the screen explaining what each is going through -- like "Husband is terminally ill," or "19-year-old son on life support," or "They saw 'something' on her mammogram."
The video closes with the thought: "If you could stand in someone else's shoes, hear what they hear, see what they see, feel what they feel -- would you treat them differently?"
Now, I don't know where the Cleveland Clinic comes down on the whole issue of Obamacare, or WIC assistance, or even government shutdowns. And frankly, I don't much care. What really matters is how we treat one another. The rest is just noise.
Here's hoping -- and I mean this with all sincerity -- that Mr. Johnsen never has to rely on any kind of assistance, government or otherwise. But if he ever does need a little help, it's comforting to know we have people like Cristen Smith. Because heaven help him, and us, if the world ever fills with Todd Johnsens.
OK, one final story, and I'll get off my soapbox:
A few years back, I purchased a used car. Clearly, I should never be trusted with such important decisions, because when I took it to get it inspected, the auto mechanic basically told me I was the stupidest car buyer he'd ever met, and that I'd purchased a worthless lemon. The former owner had hidden the vehicle's many flaws, even going so far as to roll back the mileage on the odometer by nearly 200,000 miles.
I was inconsolable. Early the next morning, following a sleepless night of worry about the financial implications for my family, I had what was as close as I've ever come to that experience people talk about when they hear a voice inside their head.
As I obsessed about letting myself get taken like that, a thought came into my mind, as clear as if someone had spoken it to me: "Would you rather be the one who got taken, or the one who did the taking?"
It was that simple. In an instant, I felt at peace. Yes, I'd been hoodwinked, and yes, I should have known better. I suppose I even deserved my fate for not being a smarter consumer.
But I was OK with it, because in that moment I realized I wasn't the kind of person who would try to cheat someone else. And that was more important to me than any amount of money.
Yes, there are those who take advantage of systems like WIC and Obamacare. But for every one of those, there are countless others who genuinely need help.
So, in the midst of all this confusing, complicated talk about government assistance and who deserves what, I find myself beset yet again by that tiny voice in my head. A voice that asks: "Would you rather be Cristen Smith, or Todd Johnsen?"
And I think we all know the answer to that one.
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @Saalman.